I heard it in The Big Lebowski movie, when Walter yells at Donny, "shut the fuck up, Donny"; then he exclaims, "You're out of your element!".

  • 5
    General reference: specific quote and the phrase in general. – Lynn Dec 2 '11 at 23:31
  • 3
    i am a programmer and i saw this question in stack overflow,so i quess here in english.SE i am out of my element,no ? – Qchmqs Dec 3 '11 at 13:54

The references given in a comment (in thefreedictionary and urbandictionary) suggest the meaning, "to feel unhappy or strange because you are in a situation that you are not familiar with", but provide no sense of why it should mean that. It is a reference to classical elements, Earth, Water, Air, and Fire; as, for example, a fish out of water is out of its element.

  • 8
    +1 "A fish out of water" is a great example of the literal and intended meaning. – Andrew Lambert Dec 2 '11 at 23:43

Someone's "element" refers to their bailiwick of expertise or comfort. A doctor might be in her element in the operating room but out of her element in a garage.

The quote from The Big Lebowski can be interpreted as "This situation is not something you are comfortable or qualified to deal with."

  • In the lingo of the film: "Back off! You have no fucking clue what you're dealing with here". – Wayfaring Stranger Sep 10 '15 at 3:58

protected by user140086 Jul 17 '16 at 6:40

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.